Karen Fukuhara is about to go from girl-next-door to full-blown action hero as she joins Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Jared Leto and Cara Delevingne in the film adaptation of the popular comic book Suicide Squad. Having started her career as a host on the Disney Channel, she moved on to Japanese TV shows while finishing up a degree at UCLA.
Scroll down a few rows on her Instagram and you’ll get a glimpse into the gruelling workouts she’s had to endure ahead of the movie. With the cast doing their own stunts, the process of getting a superhero physique is one steeped in extremities.
Amuse caught up with Karen ahead of the London premiere to ask about karate, katanas and the day-to-day reality of becoming a superhero.
I heard you were an ace in martial arts. How fit were you before filming Suicide Squad?
I used to practise a form of karate called Kyokushin, and I was a competitor in the forms division. I stopped one step away from a black belt when I went off to college. It all came back to me when we started training for Suicide Squad! We trained in fitness, martial arts and sword fighting every day during pre-production. Then kept it up during filming as well. They all worked hand in hand. My fitness trainer would discuss with my fight coordinator which muscles were necessary to manoeuvre the heavy sword.
Your character is such an important female hero as well as a prominent Asian figure in comic books. The use of her namesake “Katana” weapon is so vital. What was it like training with the Katana?
I am so grateful to be given the opportunity to play such a powerful, strong woman. I hope that Katana is a hero that little girls can look up to. Our director David Ayer made an effort to be truthful to the comic book characters and a big part of staying truthful is having the right ethnic actor play the roles. I hope to see more Asian representation in future films. Shooting the action sequences were some of my favourite days of filming, and I think they became my favourite because I had spent so much time training. I was the most fit I had been in my entire life, and with that came the physical capability to do most of my stunts. It was so fulfilling to see the work that not only me and the cast, but also the stuntmen and fight coordinators put into the movie.
What dietary changes did you have to make for the film?
I absolutely love to eat! Dietary changes were extremely difficult. It mainly consisted of quinoa, chicken breast and lots of greens.
What is your favourite juice?
I want a juicer so badly! I love the kale, spinach, green apple combination. I think the healthiest way to eat is to cook your own food. It’s so hard to eat out and skip the warm bread that comes out at the beginning of the meal… or the delicious hearty spaghetti! I’m a sucker for carbs! The team really liked sushi. Sometimes we would get Sugarfish take-out. Nobu has also been a staple.
LA’s obsession with fitness seems more like a religion. What workout are you devoted to?
I started going back to my karate dojo, so I love doing that. On top of that, I go to the gym a couple times a week. I think exercising not only keeps me in shape but also revitalises my energy. On days I work out, I get much more done throughout the day! For cardio I either go on the rower or treadmill – lately I’ve been hitting the treadmill so I can catch up on my favourite TV shows.
What skin tips have you discovered in LA? Is there a spa or treatment you are obsessed with?
The Korean spas Downtown are great to flush all the toxins out of your skin. I actually just recently got my first facial and it was life-changing, but I think everyday care is more important; removing your makeup, double cleansing if need be, toning, moisturising, and frequent exfoliating. I love my Clarisonic on days I feel I need the extra help with cleansing my face. I’m always in the market for good skincare, so if anyone has any recommendations or tips, I’d love to hear!
Do you have any tips on how to shake a hangover?
I am absolutely THE WORST with hangovers! It takes me a full day to recover if it’s an especially bad day. I like eating soup but I almost feel like eating makes me feel worse. The best way to shake a hangover is to stay in bed and cuddle with your best friend to talk about all that’s happened the night before.
Most actresses don’t see their first big movies bring in over $267 million in global box-office sales on opening weekend. But such is the case for Karen Fukuhara, the 24-year-old who plays DC Comics character Tatsu Yamashiro, a.k.a. Katana, in Suicide Squad. And she has no plans for slowing down after her big-screen debut.
Fukuhara grew up in California and began her acting career as a host of the Disney show Movie Surfers when she was in middle school. “It’s been a journey,” she says. “My childhood consisted of a mixture of American and Japanese culture — I would go to regular school during the weekdays, then go to Saturday school to learn all subjects in Japanese. Coming from a first-generation immigrant family, we didn’t know how to break into the industry. We didn’t have any connections or the means to know the necessary steps to work toward this goal.”
As fate would have it, the same casting director she worked with at Disney would one day help her get an audition for Suicide Squad. But all the fate in the world wouldn’t have made a difference if she hadn’t decided to prioritize acting as her career. “In the end, I think what led me to Suicide Squad was my willingness and courage to dive into what I was passionate about. After graduating college, I finally allowed myself to strive for what I loved to do, even if there were no guarantees that I would be able to make a living off of acting. This, combined with my life experiences prior — like stars aligning — led me to this lovely role of Katana within the DC Comics universe.”
The first thing she did once she got the part? “I read the comics! Being in this kind of movie requires lots of research. Katana has her own comics, so I spent a great deal of time learning about her past, her relationship to her beloved husband, Maseo, and her connection to her sword, the Soultaker. Her strength comes from her experiences, and that was what I was drawn to.”
To physically prep for the role, she worked with Mad Max: Fury Road’s Guy Norris and Richard Norton, who helped coordinate all her fights and hone her skills in sword fighting and martial arts. She did all of her stunts in the movie, calling on her knowledge of karate, which she’s been studying since middle school.
So far, her Hollywood experience has been better than she could have imagined. “I got so lucky with my castmates! Not only are they extremely talented, they are also some of the most grounded people I know. They have become my mentors and lifelong friends. I trust them with all my heart.”
Going from being a struggling actor to seeing action figures based on her character has been “a surreal experience,” she says, but it’s one that Fukuhara has pushed for her entire life. “I believe film and television should reflect our society, and the reality is that there are people in many different shapes and sizes, ethnicities, sexual orientation, the list goes on. I just hope we are given more opportunities.”
Suicide Squad has, without a doubt, been one of the most anticipated and talked about films of summer 2016, and it has officially hit theatres! The trailers are drool worthy, the cast even more so, and we had the chance to talk to one of them, before DC Comics’ latest gritty and witty superhero flick graces the big screen.
Former Disney Channel Japan star, Karen Fukuhara, plays Katana, a martial arts master with an enchanted sword and a moral code. A few months ago, for our SS16 issue, she took some time to sit down with our editor, Rebecca Besnos, to discuss her debut Hollywood feature film, her favorite set moments, post-wrap depression, and more!
Enjoy her exclusive Vulkan Magazine interview and editorial below, and be sure to buy your tickets ASAP!
Tell us about your character, Katana, in “Suicide Squad.” She is described as simultaneously villainous and heroic, which seems to be the movie’s mandate. Was it hard to switch from good to evil throughout filming?
Although she may be described as being both a villain and a hero, I never once believed that she is truly evil. Yes, she’s taken lives before and some may call her a murderer, but she always has a moral code and there is always reasoning behind her battles. I think after people see “Suicide Squad,” they will question their definition of good vs. evil…At what point does a human being become evil? I believe there is never a black and white answer to this question – there are so many layers. What one individual defines a “villainous act” is likely different from another person. That’s what gives the “skwad” depth!
You’ve always been in show business, having acted on The Disney Channel in Japan, but “Suicide Squad” is your first Hollywood movie. Were you nervous?
Yes, of course I was nervous! This is my first feature film and I still can’t believe I was given this opportunity. I was truly blessed in the sense that David (the director) emphasized rehearsals and training in pre-production, where I got to know the cast well before filming began. Naturally, we became a team and eventually a family through this process. Every single person I’ve worked with on this film has been so kind and helpful. I’m now comfortable enough to ask them (the cast) for advice and I trust them with my heart.
What was it like working on such a lavish set and having to be made-up and in costume all the time? Did you get to keep your Katana get-up?
It was amazing! Alessandro, my beloved on-set makeup artist, created a killer look with the scars on my face, and Kate did such an amazing job of going down a different path with the wardrobe, yet still managed to keep Katana’s essence. I love everything about Katana’s “Suicide Squad” look. I got to keep a replica of my mask but I gifted it to my fight coordinator/choreographer, Richard Norton, who also became my mentor throughout production. I wanted a way to thank him! And I got to keep the bomber jacket.
Since so much of the visual effects are added post-production, did you find it hard to adapt to this type of shooting?
Actually no-we barely used any green screen sets so it wasn’t a problem at all. We were either shooting in the real streets of Toronto or on amazing sets.
What was one of your favorite moments on set? What did you enjoy most about being in the “Suicide Squad” crew?
There was just so much to take in every single day. Will rapping on set; Cara beat boxing on the microphone; freezing under the rain towers with Margot; David’s hugs and thumbs up; Joel dropping props between takes; Jay, Jai and Viola’s jokes; and all of my action scenes…the list really goes on.
When filming wrapped, was it hard to go back to a non-sword wielding/non-super-hero existence? Did you stay in touch with any of your co-stars?
It was! Squad was my life for 6 months and it was weird coming back to reality. Post wrap depression is real! (Is that the official term?)…We hang out every time we’re in the same place and the group text is always buzzing; we are very much in touch
Hollywood’s love affair with superheroes takes on a new twist this season with the supervillain-centric “Suicide Squad.” Ever since it was first announced, the movie has ignited a firestorm for its unusual lineup of characters, and the incredible cast bringing these good-for-nothings to life. But while there’s plenty of talk about, say, Jared Leto’s take on the Joker or the appearance of “Batfleck” from “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” plenty of attention has gone to a cast-member making her big-screen debut: Karen Fukuhara.
Interestingly, the 24-year-old Japanese-American actress will play one of the few good guys (a bit dark, mysterious and at times scary—but still definitely “good”) in this movie about a squad of DC Comics’ antiheroes. If there’s anything we’ve learned from a decade worth of big-budget superhero movies, it’s that this genre is a highway to the big leagues. So, it seems that DA MAN caught up with Fukuhara just as she’s stepping into the world of global stardom.
DA MAN: Karen, great to have you with us. How excited are you for the release of “Suicide Squad”?
Karen Fukuhara: Thank you so much for having me! I think I’m the most excited person in the world. there are no words to describe my level of anticipation.
DA MAN: Can you tell us a bit about your character?
Karen Fukuhara: I play a character named Katana aka Tatsu Yamashiro, a badass samurai warrior. She wields the Soultaker, a large samurai sword that traps the souls of all its victims. She serves as a member of the Squad, but is also there as an associate of Colonel Rick Flag [Joel Kinnaman] to keep the troublemakers in line.
DA MAN: How did you end up getting cast as Katana?
Karen Fukuhara: I was called in to audition. It was the most fun I’ve had on an audition because, aside from acting, because they also wanted me to do some martial arts and sword fighting!
DA MAN: What was it like working with such a strong all-star cast?
Karen Fukuhara: I was nervous at first, but that quickly dissipated when I got to know the cast during rehearsals. Everyone is so incredibly nice and talented—I’m one lucky gal. They’ve never made me feel like I don’t belong and I am so thankful for that.
DA MAN: Did you encounter any other challenges while filming “Suicide Squad”? Especially with the action parts—although we’re guessing that your background in martial arts would certainly help in playing the sword-wielding Katana.
Karen Fukuhara: Since this was my first time being on a film set, everything was new to me. it took me a while to get in the groove of things. My action parts were challenging but David [director David Ayer] made sure we were properly trained prior to shooting: Fitness, martial arts and sword-fighting training (for me) every day. Richard Norton [stunt coordinator and choreographer] reviewed the fight choreography over and over again so that i’d be comfortable on the day. of course, a lot of that changes during shooting, which was challenging, but because they trained me so well, I was confident enough to perform whatever new moves they gave me. The days shooting my fight scenes were my favorite days. The sense of accomplishment after finishing a long day full of action sequences—there’s no other feeling like it.
DA MAN: What, would you say, are the movie’s biggest strengths? What do you think will fans and critics talk about the most after seeing “Suicide Squad”?
Karen Fukuhara: David has created a world full of human truth and gritty realism. He stayed true to the comics and honored the deep connections “Suicide Squad” fans feel toward the flawed super villains. I think the fans will appreciate the depth of the characters’ backstories. What does it take these villains to come together and finally do the right thing? Get ready for a wild ride.
DA MAN: “Suicide Squad” is your big screen debut, right? What would you say was the most demanding part of working on a production of this magnitude?
Karen Fukuhara: I have nothing to compare it to, but I can’t think of anything to complain about. They made it so easy for me and I absolutely loved every aspect of it. If I had to answer this question, maybe I’d say the fitness training. But even that was amazing because we had our own gym and amazing personal trainers.
DA MAN: So far, has your debut role led to any new opportunities coming your way?
Karen Fukuhara: It’s opened up so many doors for me that I didn’t even know existed. I’d say being in a DA MAN issue is a pretty big one.
DA MAN: Are you going to pursue acting full-time?
Karen Fukuhara: Yes, but that decision was made prior to being in “Suicide Squad.” Being a full-time actress has always been a dream of mine.
DA MAN: Are there any specific genres or character types that you’d like to try your hand at?
Karen Fukuhara: I’d love to play a character where race is not in the character description; someone that is who they are not because of racial stereotypes but because they just are.
DA MAN: We’ve also learned that you’re a sports reporter. Can you tell us a bit about your reporting work?
Karen Fukuhara: I work as a sports reporter for a show called “NHK World Sports,” formerly called “NHK BS Best Sports,” that airs in Japan. This is my sixth year, and I go around the nation reporting on different stadiums and arenas, introducing its unique features as well as interviewing players, coaches and avid fans. one time we made [american pro baseball player] Manny Ramirez a rice ball and in return he gave me a signed bat!
DA MAN: How do you deal with the increased public and media attention now?
Karen Fukuhara: My cast mates tell me that I don’t understand the magnitude of this movie. They’re probably right. I’m thrilled for the release and am intrigued to see how the hardcore fans will take it. It’s awesome seeing the excitement through Instagram comments and tagged pictures. I love all the Katana fan art and cosplayers!
DA MAN: When you’re not busy with work, how do you usually spend your time?
Karen Fukuhara: I love going to concerts and music festivals. I wasn’t planning on going to Coachella this year but after seeing everyone’s posts about it during Weekend 1, FOMO [short for “fear of missing out”] took over and I bought a ticket for Week 2 the day before. I still have a sore throat but it was 100-percent worth it! I also love eating. Some people say they eat to live, I live to eat.
DA MAN: If you could sum up your experiences in the last year or so in one sentence or maybe with a quote, what would it be?
Karen Fukuhara: Lao Tzu’s “the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step” comes to mind. I feel like I’ve hit the jackpot and I’m so grateful for this crazy, wild ride with the coolest people. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for me next.
When Karen Fukuhara was cast in the highly anticipated DC Comics blockbuster Suicide Squad, it was under such a thick veil of secrecy that she didn’t even know her character’s name. So based on the intel she had, Fukuhara went home and did some 21st-century research. “I just went on Google and typed in ‘Japanese, sword, character, hero, superhero’ and Katana did come up,” she says of her masked, blade-wielding character in the film, which also stars Jared Leto, Margot Robbie, Will Smith, and Cara Delevingne as an eclectic group of supervillains who are brought together to save the world. “When I got the role and found out who was in it, I just couldn’t believe that I was going to be able to be a part of something so iconic,” she says.
Just two years ago, Fukuhara was working as a translator, guiding a Japanese model through New York Fashion Week. The American-born 24-year-old learned the language from her parents, who emigrated from Japan to Los Angeles before she was born. For her, being cast as Katana, a stoic, Japanese martial artist whose sword captures the souls of its victims, meant more than a cool role in a major Hollywood movie. “It means so much, because it’s always very off-putting when an actor of a different Asian ethnicity plays a Japanese character, especially if the movie is going to be aired in that country,” she says. “Growing up I realized that we really don’t have that many Asian actresses, models, or people that make public appearances on TV in Hollywood. Every Halloween I would have such a struggle dressing up as something because I would always feel so fake, like, ‘What superhero can I be? What Disney princess can I be?’ I was so limited.”
Even though she couldn’t imagine herself on-screen, Fukuhara decided to pursue a movie career anyway. She took whatever acting classes her family could afford and worked on her craft between years of Japanese school in Los Angeles and college at UCLA. “Have I always wanted to do this?” Fukuhara says. “Yes, but I never knew how. I sat down and thought about it and I was like, ‘I’m going to find out how to do this.’” That research involved getting a manager and an agent, and going on as many film and television auditions as possible. Miraculously, Suicide Squad is the first one that stuck.
Her inexperience meant that she had to learn the intricacies of big-budget action filmmaking on the fly, which is where her years of karate—she began at age 12 and continued up to brown belt—came in handy during the fight scenes. And it helped that she clicked with her very famous castmates, a bond that was splashed all over Instagram. Fukuhara’s account is filled with group shots of the cast—who dubbed themselves the “skwad”—at music festivals, on private jets, and around bonfires. In one photo, Robbie, dressed in character as Harley Quinn, is giving Fukuhara an ankle tattoo as director David Ayer and castmate Joel Kinnaman look on with glee. “That was my first tattoo experience ever,” she says. “It was a pretty spontaneous decision we all made to commemorate our skwad bond. It puts a smile on my face every time I see it.” In fact, the first time fans realized Fukuhara was in the film was when she went to a hockey game with Delevingne in Toronto during production. “We took a picture eating a pizza, and she and I both posted it on social media,” says Fukuhara with a laugh. “My friends were like, ‘You’re with Cara Delevingne!’ I even got comments from DC fans saying, ‘I know you’re in the new DC movie. Don’t lie to us.’”
But ultimately, it was Leto who left the biggest mark. To enter the demented headspace of the Joker, Leto famously sent grotesque gifts to his unsuspecting castmates. “I got a box full of used condoms, dildos, and, like, a porn magazine,” Fukuhara says. “It was disgusting, and I kept it.”
With anticipation for Suicide Squad high, Fukuhara is searching for her next role. She’s auditioning continuously and participated in pilot season, but hasn’t secured anything specific yet. So for now, Fukuhara’s IMDb page lists only one credit. “Started from the bottom,” she jokes, then reconsiders: “Kind of started from the top, though.”